The word Kron seems to have several (almost random) meanings in Urban parlance but here Kron refers to the Lord of Time, Chronos. Why I say this is because time is a commonly overlooked part of the creation of music. I have also covered some of what I will write here before in an article on using CV to liven up synths.
Finally, we have a CV device to rival the totality of Thor (the “Polysonic” synth) and I would like to show you why I think that is important.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
To quickly recap, there are two reasons that CV is important in the world of music and Electronic Music in particular:
- In the real world, most instruments have movement in time, just as a guitarist bends strings to create feeling, a synth needs bending (not at the circuit board please) to create unique feeling. This is part of how a sound behaves over time, hence the Kron name for this beast. Reason has been accused of having a “flat” sound and that is indeed a partial reality but the solution, as it is with all instruments whether in Reason, hardware or even acoustic is that element of movement over time which is where CV is your best friend (along with Automation).
- The true heart of Electronic Music started with the big Modular synths that saw the creation of new sounds that often relied on a lot of movement, from evolving Control Voltage commands, to deliver their unique vision. That faded by the mid to late 80’s and almost disappeared in the 00’s as synths were less easily programmed (and more reliant on samples). DAWs hadn’t yet worked out how to deliver modularity in anything approaching ease for less than maniacally dedicated composers. The technique reappeared in the Wub styling of several sub-genres but often seemed the sole domain of a few uber-synths that felt to be designed for that one trick alone.
Reason was built on a fairly high level of modularity, with each device being able to operate as a self-contained unit, but also able to come more to life with movement delivered over the CV system that is a lot like that in the old Modualrs.
To this point, there have been quite a few CV devices in the Reason Rack from Propellerheads own Pulsar, Synchronous and even Thor & Malstom. Also, there are a lot of Rack Extensions from various developers like Jiggery Pokery, Robotic Bean & Multi-D. Most of these units cover one use. This method of lots of little boxes that specialize in one thing definitely has its advantages, but it also brings some disadvantages that reduce the usability of the CV system. The three main frustrations that I find are that;
- Each device has to be swapped in and out of the Rack and wired/rewired to try the effect (thank God for Ctrl Z).
- Each device developer tends to have their own workflow methods so I have to learn and adjust to that for each device moved in and out of the sound.
- Each device becomes easy to forget as, while I don’t own a lot, there are so damned many of them to attempt to keep forebrain that if one hasn’t done something cool for me in a while it fades.
None of these issues is killer as such but if there was one device to rule them all as we have with Thor in synthesis then that would suit me.
Face the Raven
Enter the Kron CV Toolbox by Alien Seed Tech which I have been involved in Beta and Patch Design with from a very early beta version.
Alien Seed Tech already have the PSDN (Poseidon) Envelope generator in the shop. PSDN offers the sorely needed adjustable curve Envelopes that Thor lacks but the issue is that kind of CV task really only works in a Monophonic situation (just like in a Eurorack). Dr. Seed has plans for a solution that looks mind-boggling cool but that is a while off right now.
This video is similar in content to the article but not the same either. It is essentially 30 mins of me playing with one synth sound and Krontrolling it whilst walking thru main Kron features.
voice is a bit quiet (and hissy)
Terror of the Autons
Speaking of mind-boggling, I can hear your mind going boggle right now at that interface. Neither Dr. Seed or I blame you but that is the trade-off with putting so many options in one box (and limits of the RE SDK). However I bet the first time you saw a fully loaded SSL mixing console, your mind wanted to escape out the back door too. Now you know how to use the SSL just fine because you realized you only use one bit at a time, and then you start to relate one bit to another. Now you can fly around the SSL mixer like it was a Line Mixer 6:2.
CV automation is like that too so if you just take it one bite-size at a time it will grow with you and next thing you know you are having other people calling you a CV Master. More importantly, you can do things with more control, less random and more success. That is Pro my Companions.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Let us dive in and start with the most familiar part of Kron, the LFOs in the middle. This is essentially the same as the LFO on your fave Synth. Kron’s LFO will do a hell of a lot more but let’s not get caught up in that right now. We will simply augment the limited number of LFOs on Subtractor with another to wibblify the Filter Cutoff. After all who doesn’t love a wibblified Filter.
You have the usual options to choose a Wave shape, Freq (BPM synced or Freerunning) and then the output Level. Find those controls. Once you have wired up Kron to Sub then you will hear the Modulation and you are a Time Lord.
Spend as much time as you want to play with just this and hearing how changing LFO Freq & Level give different effects. At first, you may think you can only do the obvious like big chunky sequence style stuff. Sure you can but you can also do really subtle things with very fast or very slow LFO speeds.
Slow LFO speeds can give you some Analog style drift (even without using a random shape) and Fast LFO speeds with small amounts can give a very nice edge or bite to a sound. You may want to lower the CV Trim on the back of the Subtractor to give better resolution to the Kron Level knob.
Swap the CV cable to Subtractor’s OSC Pitch CV In and spend some time playing again. If you find you are over this in 5 mins then either this isn’t for you, or you aren’t giving yourself the time to realize all the subtle glory that modulation can give you. This is the world of “Warm” everyone is raving about. half the secret to the Mini Moog is the overdrive, but the other half is the drunken wanderings of all the parameters.
That covers the very basics of Kron. Four LFOs in the one box almost make Kron worth the price alone. But as Props noticed in the Reason 10 teaser, you want More. Funny as Sisters Of Mercy said the same, hmmm…
The Zygon Invasion
More is the very heart of Kron. It can do just about anything you could need from a CV Creating & Warping device, all without needing to wire a new device in and out. It isn’t my role to tell you how to use all Kron’s features – and I sure don’t know em all either yet. But having made a lot of patches that you will find in the official release I found a thing or three that amused the Reason Sound out of me.
Right within each LFO there is the ability to perform a lot of warping functions on the stock waves. That Sine you think so mundane (yep I saw that post) can be continuously warped into a number of shapes that an Idiot Savant would love to tell you the count of but let’s just agree on infinite. Then you can DIY 4 of your own waveforms in the big Scope up top. Not enough, well you can combine 2 or all 4 of those waves into one uber wave. That’s 128 nodes of control!!! Oh and if you haven’t twigged, the User Waves can also double as MSEGs by using a One Shot mode.
Then under the LFOs there is one of those Mod Matrix thingees that lets you assign almost any feature on the Kron interface to anything on any combination of LFOs. That can be as simple as using a User Knob to control Rate or Depth on an LFO to ganging LFOs to change how each other behave for more wave warping weirdness.
There may not be many Wave Shape presets but there are more options once you get going, things like Expanding Step waves. Once you get your head around how each control warps the wave (incl. the Custome Wave shapes) you can make anything you need. If you haven’t got enough happening on-board, or simply have something in the Rack that needs bending, then you can CV that into Kron to Krontrol or be Krontrolled.
The Angels Take Manhattan
A Quant is seemingly a strange thing but it is essentially an LFO driven Sample & Hold doohickie (on the left of the LFO bank) that allows you to do S&H and Bit Reduction type operations on your CVs. This means you can make any of your LFOs stop whilst you are looking at them and sneak up on you whilst your back is turned*. Pretty darned scary stuff. Someone should make a TV Show about that.
To apply a Quant to an LFO, find the wee green switch just to the right of the Orange LFO On/Off button and twitch it one snap to the right and it will light up green. That assigns Quant 1 to quantize LFO 1. Switch on Quant 1 and see the green LED above flash. That means it is working. Seeing it is assigned you should also see the green LED to the right light up too. This color coding approach is used across Kron to help give a sense of what is working with or related to what. Sure, at first it looks like a Juno 106 got jiggy with a Dalek scrapyard but there is a method that will start to make sense over time. Try to suspend your sense of visual indignation and let the understanding sneak up on you.
Those sneaky Quants also double as Gate Generators so you can wire a CV Cable (round the back if you dare go back there in the dark) to a Gate In on a synth and it will fire off drums or whatever else you like to fire off. I used these on a few patches to make blippy things where the Level was used to control other CV parameters like Pitch. With control over Gate Length, Level and Smoothing, they can do many things.
*this is not exactly a feature of Kron, but is a fresh-underpants-needing Dr Who episode or two.
Attack of the Cybermen
The last main feature is the Grid lurking to the right of the OSC bank. The Grid is like a cross between a wave sequencer and DJ deck. You can march LFOs, or any other source like a collection of CV Ins to banks A & B and then choose from a set of rules how the inputs get mixed, switched or crossfaded to the output, incl options like Sum, Multiply, Average, etc.
This means that you could do something like play a sequence of LFO 1, LFO 2, LFO,3, LFO 4 etc. That could be one cycle each with a hard switch or something a lot looser with more random crossfading between any two sources.
The results can be assigned back into Kron via Mod Matix or CVs on the back if the resulting wave seems too tame for your liking. This is a great feature; not only can many sources be assigned within the Mod Matrixes but flown back around into Kron again for another pass using CV Cables. This, of course, means that other CV processing can be carried out on an external device should you need that level of evil.
Under the main part of the Grid there is a Delay which operates on the Grid Output like an Audio Delay Line. Only with CV it is a bit more complex. If you start with the Grid outputting a simple blip every 1/2 then you can add a 1/4 Echo and it is the same as simply upping the main temp to 1/4 as you hear blip, blip in the same time as 1/2. Bit of a waste but if you then adjust the Mix and add Feedback you start to get more interesting results.
CVs are Monophonic so once you have a more complex signal coming from the Grid the Echoes add to the original, not overlaid like with audio but added. This means that your CV signal gets all manner of messed up, same as if you played the whole orchestral MIDI File of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Orchestra in E-flat major into a Mini Moog at once. You get an unmusical jumble of jumping and jarring notes as everything is “flattened” and played like that which is not fun. But take heart as once you get your head around the Delay, you can get some extra movement or other goodies.
This also saves you reaching for another RE if you want to make a simple echo of a CV coming from Kron or somewhere else. This is a part of why I see Kron as the Thor of CV in Reason as if I want to try something else, there is a fair chance Kron can manage it without having to rewire. Even if once I have a proof of concept I move to a dedicated CV unit, Kron has saved me wasted time more often than not.
The Five Doctors
I have really only scratched the surface of the main parts of Kron, there are also sections for:
- Gates, that do gatey things
- a pair of XY Pads that tie into the…
- User Knobs & Buttons, two banks of Knobs for 8 of each (take that Combinator)
- an ADSR Envelope that can trigger, or be triggered by things, as well as ADSR other things
- a mighty Wave Editor for drawing custom shapes for the LFOs that can also take up the duties of an Analog Sequencer (don’t ask me as that feature kept changing as I was working with it so while I made some patches they were pretty darned random, I can learn that feature now it is in my Rack for good)
Also, you will have no doubt noticed that there are about a universe of buttons and menus front and back that I haven’t touched on that modify or otherwise do mathificational things to other things that you barely grock in the first place. That is why Dr Seed made a manual that has a decent Getting Started as well as a Knob By Knob section. Sure it doesn’t always make sense but that is more a case of getting up to speed with the underlying concepts. Given time I will have as deep a relationship with Kron as I do with Thor.
Oh, if Alien Green isn’t your bag then you can change the colors of Kron too. I haven’t even tried this feature as it just doesn’t bother me what color something it. Kron is all about doing things and do is not the name of a color.
The Wedding of River Song
You may still be wondering if you should enter into a deep loving relationship with Kron, pass on CV altogether, or get something that seems simpler (and prettier)? I can’t make your mind up on that but I do know that Kron has made many of my pieces sound a lot better in the time I have used it. Sometimes the Krontrol is easy to spot but at others it is subtle. These times are probably my fave as I will have Kron making subtle movements to several synth parameters and an effect or two and the sounds are just deeper and warmer. I could play you a piece made with the Oberon RE (clinical additive synth) that you would mistake for something dustier.
If you want to try using Kron as a “warmer” but don’t feel sure how to do it yourself then mash the Try button in the Prop Shop and try my Combi Patches like “2001 ROMpler” or any of the “Analogify” patches. Switch the Kron in and out to hear how the sound becomes warmer and deeper, or more real sounding. Sure none of these patches give you instant Bro Step (or whatever sub-sub-genre is stylin’ right now) but it gives you an idea of how much marrying Kron to your existing synths is like buying a whole new set of much better instruments, bit of time to get going, but way less cost not only in buying one uber-synth but in not having to buy several more over time.
During the time I was working on Kron I met a lovely woman who thinks that Kron is great. I also left someone who didn’t like Kron at all as she felt it was a threat to her. Kron made my life better in that way too. Kron is magic pure and simple.